Carolina Bay’s expanding Rice Field section first in neighborhood to display new perks

The Hampton floor plan is one of two Centex sales models at Rice Field. The enclave sits within the Carolina Bay master planned community west of the Ashley (Jim Parker/Staff 10-14-2013).

A few design changes that Pulte-Centex wriggled into homes for 2013 appear quite noticeable, such as ensuring there’s at least one “flex” room in every house.

But other adjustments, while likewise stemming from the builder group’s innovative consumer research this year, may be tougher to notice — unless you’re sitting in the tub.

Until recently, floor plans called for a rectangular window in the master bathroom situated not much above a bather’s head level. The window looked attractive and wasn’t that big, but the location proved a distraction to more than a few shoppers. Some homeowners would opt for opaque windows just to keep from feeling like they were bathing in front of the whole world.

In Pulte-Centex focus groups, homebuyers cited the revealing bathtub window, and the company took them up on their concern. The builder, in its new models, shuttled the window up the wall so that it’s much closer to the ceiling. The result may be a little less aesthetic, but no one has to worry about being caught in their birthday suit, either.

“We are selling more homes because the floor plans are exceptional,” says Carroll Loewer, sales consultant with the Coastal Carolinas division of Centex overseeing a new section of Carolina Bay west of the Ashley.

The section, a phase in the master planned community’s Rice Field enclave, will add about 75 homes. Buyers can pick from six floor plans ranging in size from 1,913 square feet to 3,437 square feet and in price from $218,990 to $267,990. Designs include the Aspire, Hartwell, Mitchell and Norris as well as the Compton and the Hampton, both of which serve as sales models.

Pulte Group, which sells houses under the Centex name (as well as the Pulte name) in the Charleston area, took a divergent approach to determining consumer wants this year. Instead of corraling shoppers into finished models and asking them to comment, the company constructed framed homes while leaving interiors unfinished. Consumers then could make their own choices rather than react to existing designs. The results were eye-opening.

Already, the new layouts stress versatility. According to Centex, the one-story Compton can be configured with three-to-five bedrooms, two-to-four bathrooms, an optional loft or second floor bedroom and bath and walk-in closets in each bedroom.

Among the shopper-suggested design adjustments:

• Crafting one or more rooms as flexible use so that buyers can make choices to better fit their needs, from extra sleeping areas to studies and TV rooms. One explanatory marker in the Hampton model lists seven options for an upstairs bedroom, including “band practice room” and “man cave.”

• Phasing out lofts over the garage, instead building them in more central places. Finished rooms over the garage wind up with angled ceilings, thus limiting space and leaving the lofts more difficult to decorate, Lower says. Not everyone desires lofts, too. “Retired folks don’t want steps,” he says.

• Offering the choice of sunrooms or screened-in porches. Sunrooms, considered heated and cooled space and factored into the square footage, seems to be besting screened-in porches thus far.

• Providing the option of an unfinished third level in two story houses. The top floor then can handle extra storage and can be finished out as a rec room at some point.

Centex presents numerous other standard features at Rice Field such as energy-saving appliances, programmable thermostats and two car garages. Most kitchens support natural gas cooktops.

The builder, too, serves up a slew of options. They include surround sound, refrigerator and washer-dryer. “The price has come down enough,” Loewer says, that many shoppers can afford extras.

While cognizant of the consumers’ impact on interior changes, Loewer notes that shoppers aren’t just interested in home design. Neighborhood attractions still sway many buyers.

“We are getting a lot of families who like the sidewalks, pool, amenities,” Loewer says. “Also retirees.”

The popular new Carolina Bay Park opened this year a couple of blocks from the new Rice Field phase. Extra large sidewalks on some streets make up part of the West Ashley Greenway, he says.

Launched less than a decade ago, Carolina Bay boasts about 1,200 homes. Interior roadways incrementally lengthen to eventualy link up the Savannah Highway main entrance with the community’s Essex enclave off Glenn McConnell Parkway and with other arteries.

“The neighborhood has really come into its own,” Loewer says.

Reach Jim Parker at 937-5542 or